Hey Principals: When You Keep Bad Teachers, That Hurts Your Students

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I was on Facebook and came across the Education Post article, “Hey Principals, When You Lose Good Teachers That’s On You.” It is a true statement, but what about the bad ones that you keep that hurts your students?

This blog is not about the unfairness of teacher evaluations and the systems used by schools. I am not here to talk about whether or not teachers should be rated using growth or a proficient matrix, even though those topics are important that is not the context of this blog. I am talking about being bad at teaching. I am talking about principals not having the unmitigated gall to fire bad teachers or allow them to walk out the door on their own.

Principals, if you decide to keep a bad teacher at your school, then you are doing your students a disservice. I learned a valuable lesson in my first year as a leader; I had to be comfortable with a vacancy. All vacancies are not bad. Having a bad teacher in front of students is worse than a vacancy.

I know finding teachers is difficult and when you have a teacher, you must do your best to keep them. Why should we keep bad teachers? Why should we keep teachers that are not good for children? Principals, you have to understand these are people’s children in those seats. Those are real lives being affected by the person that stands in front of the classroom. I often respond with these questions when people come to me about keeping a lousy teacher for the sake of not having a vacancy.

  • Would you go to an ineffective and bad doctor?

  • Would you hire an ineffective and bad lawyer?

  • Would you allow a bad mechanic to work on your car?

No, No, and No! So, why would we continue to allow ineffective and bad teachers to be responsible for our most precious gifts, our children?

It’s lonely at the top and principals are at the top. You make tough decisions every day. Letting go of a bad teacher, who is hurting students should not be a tough decision. That should be an easy decision. Remember, students first. Some principals scream from the mountaintop they are student-centered and they put the best interest of their students first, but then they keep students in a classroom with a bad teacher.

Education Trust reported that low-income students and students of color are more likely than their higher income and white counterparts to be taught by an ineffective teacher. Now principals, why do our most vulnerable students get stuck with second helpings?

Principals, I understand that you do not want to be in a school where you have vacancies in multiple grades. I know you do not want to turn over your staff year after year. I get it; trust me. I live it as well. For me, and I think for you as well, what you do not want is a school full of bad teachers and you do not want to bring back the same bad teachers year after year. When you keep bad teachers that hurts your students. Hurting your students, now that is on you.

I am not writing this blog to encourage a mass firing of bad teachers. Well, I am in a way. I do not neglect what comes first, which is training and coaching. You must coach and train those bad teachers; however, there must be a line. The line for me and I think the line for our profession should be once you become hurtful and harmful to students then you have “Gots To Go.” “Bye Felicia” in my Craig voice from Friday. “Go Home Roger,” in my Tia and Tamara voice from Sister, Sister. And as the old folks say, “Don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.” In other words: 

“I appreciate your willingness to serve our students; however, we have to do what is best for students. It is best that we mutually part ways.”

It is about crucial conversations. I do believe many principals still struggle with having crucial conversations. I sleep better at night knowing what I am doing is what is best for students.

It is about the betterment of students not the benefit of adults. It is not about making things comfortable for adults, who can bounce back. It is about these children and not wasting the critical years of their education because we care about the feelings of grown a** people.

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David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.